Jody Williams was born on October 9, 1950 in Brattleboro, Vermont. Her brother was deaf and suffered from schizophrenia. On account of his disabilities, he was incessantly tormented by his classmates. Williams was deeply touched by her brother’s plight. An indication of Williams’ concern about world issues was the that that as a teenager she was aware of the consequences of American military involvement in Southeast Asia and became involved in the anti-war effort during the Vietnam War.
Williams is the founding coordinator of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), an organization that began in October of 1992. She has overseen the growth of the ICBL to more than 1,000 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in more than sixty countries. She has served as the chief strategist and public representative for this campaign. Working extensively with many non-governmental organization (NGOs) and receptive governments, the ICBL ultimately achieved its goal of an international treaty banning antipersonnel landmines during the diplomatic conference held in Oslo in September 1997. For this monumental effort Williams was awarded the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize along with the campaign she worked for. It should be noted that governments of the United States, Russia and China refused to be signatories to this treaty.
The life that she lived that led up to this monumental achievement was a life dedicated to service. Williams first trained as a teacher of English as a Second Language (ESL), receiving a BA from the University of Vermont in 1972 and a Master's degree in teaching Spanish and ESL from the School for International Training (also in Vermont) in 1974. She taught ESL in Mexico, the United Kingdom, and finally Washington, D.C.. During her stay in Mexico, she had her first real experience of what constitutes grinding poverty. In 1984, she received a second M.A. in International Relations from the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.
On learning about the U.S. involvement in the civil war in El Salvador, she began to devote her attentions to this situation. For two years she led delegations to Central America as coordinator of the Nicaragua-Honduras Education Project where she was an aid worker from 1984 to 1986. She also served as the deputy director of the organization Medical Aid for El Salvador where she developed and directed humanitarian relief projects. She was particularly concerned about the deleterious impact of U.S. policy in Central America; Williams held this position until she took up her role within the newly formed ICBL.
In late 1991, Bobby Muller, president of the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation, called Williams to see if she was interested in coordinating a new effort to ban landmines worldwide. She proceeded to mobilize non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to press this worthwhile cause. Millions of these explosive devices remain buried in the ground in war-torn countries around the world long after the initial conflicts had ended.
In October 1992, the ICBL was formally launched. The ICBL called for an end to the “use, production, trade, and stockpiling of mines.” As the ICBL’s chief strategist, Williams took every opportunity to speak and write about this issue and was insistent on calling for a total ban.
Their efforts got another boost in 1996, when a meeting hosted by the Canadian government agreed to draw up an international treaty banning landmines. In December 1997, the treaty was signed , with the support of 122 countries. In little more than five years, Jody Williams and the ICBL had achieved their goal of raising public awareness about landmines and affecting a landmine ban.
Together with Shawn Roberts, she co-authored After the Guns Fall Silent: The Enduring Legacy of Landmines (VVAF, 1995). Their book detailed the more hidden costs of landmine use, such as the long-term effects of land mines. Williams expressed her concerns in the following way, “Besides the costs of treating landmine victims, the mines mean that people cannot travel or work safely. Land goes unused, causing unemployment and poverty.”
"People have this idea that land-mined fields are set off with barbed wire like they are in World War II movies, but that is not how it is," Williams once told a reporter. "They put them where people go. They put them next to watering holes, along the banks of the river, in the fields. It is not realistic for people to stay out of those areas."
To achieve her monumental goal, Williams developed an approach that capitalized on the power of numbers, for her cause struck a strong and sympathetic chord in many individuals throughout the world, who were horrified to hear of the impact of landmines on innocent people. In her own words, Williams said, “Imagine trying to get hundreds of organizations – each one independent and working on many, many issues – to feel that each is a critical element of the development of a new movement. I wanted each to feel that what they had to say about campaign planning, thinking, programs, actions was important. So, instead of sending letters, I’d send everyone faxes. People got in the habit of faxing back. This served two purposes – people would really have to think about what they were committing to doing before writing it down, and we have a permanent, written record of almost everything in the development of the campaign from day one.”
Williams continues to serve the ICBL as a campaign ambassador and editor of the organization's landmine report, and, since 2003, has held a faculty position as a distinguished professor of social work and global justice at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. Her publications include:
•After the Guns Fall Silent: The Enduring Legacy of Landmines, Shawn Roberts and Jody Williams, Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation, Washington, D.C., 1995.
•"Landmines and measures to eliminate them," International Review of the Red Cross, July-August 1995. No. 307.
•"Landmines: Dealing with the Environmental Impact," Environment Security, 1997, Vol. 1. No. 2.
•"Social Consequences of Widespread Use of Landmines," Landmine Symposium, International Committee of the Red Cross, Montreux, Switzerland, April 1993.
•"The Protection of Children Against Landmines and Unexploded Ordinance," Impact of Armed Conflict on Children: Report of the Expert Group of the Secretary-General, Ms. Graca Machel, A/51/306, 26 August 1996.
In 2006, Williams was one of the founders of The Nobel Women's Initiative along with sister Nobel Peace Laureates Rigoberta Menchu, Shirin Ebadi, Wangari Maathai, Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan Maguire. Six women representing North America and South America, Europe, the Middle East and Africa decided to bring together their experiences in a united effort for peace with justice and equality. It is the goal of the Nobel Women's Initiative to help strengthen work being done in support of women's rights around the world.
She was the Head of the High-Level Mission dispatched by the Human Rights Council to report on the situation of human rights in Darfur and the needs of Sudan. The Mission issued its report on 7 March 2007. In addition, Williams was invited to participate in the UN’s Study on the Impact of Armed Conflict of Children that was led by Graca Machel former first lady of Mozambique.
In conferring the Nobel Peace Prize to Williams and the ICBL, Francis Sejersted, chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, said, "There are those among us who are unswerving in their faith that things can be done to make our world a better, safer, and more humane place and who also, even when the tasks appear overwhelming, have the courage to tackle them... You have helped to rouse public opinion all over the world against the use of an arms technology that strikes quite randomly at the most innocent and most defenseless."
To date, more than 156 countries have signed the landmine ban treaty. The following is an excerpt taken from her acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize, “The desire to ban land mines is not new. In the late 1970s, the International Committee of the Red Cross, along with a handful of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) pressed the world to look at weapons that were particularly injurious and/or indiscriminate. One of the weapons of special concern was landmines. People often ask why the focus on this one weapon. How is the landmine different from any other conventional weapon?
“Landmines distinguish themselves because once they have been sown, once the soldier walks away from the weapon, the landmine cannot tell the difference between a soldier or a civilian -- a woman, a child, a grandmother going out to collect firewood to make the family meal. The crux of the problem is that while the use of the weapon might be militarily justifiable during the day of the battle, or even the two weeks of the battle, or maybe even the two months of the battle, once peace is declared the landmine does not recognize that peace. The landmine is eternally prepared to take victims. In common parlance, it is the perfect soldier, the "eternal sentry." The war ends, the landmine goes on killing.
“Since World War II most of the conflicts in the world have been internal conflicts. The weapon of choice in those wars has all too often been landmines -- to such a degree that what we find today are tens of millions of landmines contaminating approximately 70 countries around the world. The overwhelming majority of those countries are found in the developing world, primarily in those countries that do not have the resources to clean up the mess, to care for the tens of thousands of landmine victims. The end result is an international community now faced with a global humanitarian crisis.”
Jody Williams has worked tirelessly for the causes of peace and social justice. She is now assisting the ICBL in its efforts to promote a new Cluster Munitions Treaty. Her actions and those who have participated in these efforts with her have undoubtedly saved countless lives and helped craft a safer world for many of the world’s children.